Remembering Benazir Bhutto: A tribute to a great leader

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By Bashir Riaz

June 21, 1953 is the birthday of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime-minister of any Muslim state. Remembering her brings pain and sorrow of her loss but for me, it is also a reminder of her compassionate and beautiful personality. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto represented the Pakistan that was beautiful and with an immense potential for development and success. She set highest benchmark for politics of integrity and set great examples with struggles for democracy. For this reason, her birthday is celebrated every year on June 21 and nationally and internationally, a tribute is paid to her in ceremonies that are organized across the world to remember her great contributions for this country.

One evening in the 70 Clifton, Shaheed BB received a phone call from Lahore. It was Khwaja Tariq Rahim informing her that dictator General Zia ul Haq’s plane has disappeared from the radar. When Shaheed BB insisted what this information implied, he replied that the long and dark story of General Zia’s rule in Pakistan has come to an end. After that moment, she received a flurry of related calls. About half an hour later, a friend of the Bhutto family and renowned journalist confirmed that the remains of the lost plane have been found near Bahawalpur and all its passengers including General Zia have been killed.

Outside 70 Clifton, party workers who were victims of baton charge, imprisonment, and unemployment at the hands of the autocratic regime, were emotionally charged. Some of them carried boxes of sweets. When Shaheed Benazir Bhutto learned about the festive mood outside 70 Clifton and that people were distributing sweets in joy and celebrations, she left her drawing room and went outside the gate. She said, “Our religion does not allow us to celebrate someone’s death.” Some of the workers replied, “But what he did to Shaheed Zulfikar Bhutto…” She stopped them right away and said, “We do not believe in politics of revenge.”

In her book, “Daughter of the East” Shaheed BB wrote about her concern for her close associates at the occasion of her return to Pakistan. The following excerpt displays her thoughtfulness and empathetic nature: “‘Naheed, Bashir, Dara. Stay close to me.’ I told those who had been warned that they would be arrested. It was ironic: my supporters crowded around me for my protection, and I kept them close to me for their protection. ‘We’re your security,’ members of the press said. But it was the crush of the people outside the airport who turned out to be our security. The immigration authorities were so anxious to get us away from the airport that they conducted their formalities on the plane, quickly stamping all our passports.”

Being a woman leading a political party in a conservative Muslim country, Shaheed BB had to make certain personal decisions in an effort not to alienate her people by staying within the societal norms. One day, while surrounded by her friends in the 70 Clifton, she asked my opinion on marriage and whether she should consider it for herself. I immediately replied in affirmative and said, “Yes, you must!” At that time, I did not know whom she was considering to marry but I expressed by opinion that for a female political leader, marriage is necessary to ensure safety in personal and political life and for desirable social status in the Pakistani culture. After July 1977, the Bhutto family had to face several tragedies including hanging of Shaheed BB’s father, her brother Shahnawaz’s death, her mother’s illness, her brother Mir Murtaza’s exile and her own house arrests that did not give Shaheed BB enough time to ponder over her personal life. Compared to the wedding ceremonies of her siblings, Shaheed BB’s wedding was being held in much better circumstances and her family and friends were delighted to be able to join Shaheed BB in this memorable occasion. Shaheed BB displayed a great sense of generosity by including the people of Lyari to mark this personal milestone in her life. The ceremony was organized in PPPP’s political stronghold, Lyari’s biggest ground, Kakri Ground. That day, her guests and media from all around the world enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Lyari.

My relationship with the Bhutto family has always been honest and filled with sincerity. The reason why I continued to be a part of Shaheed BB’s journey is because my intentions have been pure and I have earned the family’s trust. After she became the Prime Minister, she offered me to work for her and I agreed to it. Like in the past, I started handling international media.

In the last week of December 1993, Shaheed BB went on an official visit to China and North Korea. In her second tenure, this was my first foreign tour with her. Just a day earlier, she had organized a lunch for my birthday in the Prime Minister House. The guest list included individuals who were close associates of both, Shaheed Bb and mine. I was greatly touched by the gesture that she had kept the tradition of celebrating my birthday even after becoming the Prime Minister. That day, I promised myself that I will remember her on her birthday for years to come, and even if she is no longer with us, I try to continue this tradition my sharing her precious memories with her people and with the new generation.

21 June 2019 is Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s sixty-sixth birthday. Her absence is felt today more than ever. The most befitting tribute to her on her birthday would be to reiterate our commitment to BB’s vision by supporting the new generation who is trying to continue her legacy despite the fact that their father, Mr. Zardari has been arrested and the children’s guardian Faryal Talpur is also under house arrest. Her children, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Bakhtawar, and Asifa are the custodians of her legacy and they are all well-educated and capable individuals who will continue BB’s mission of serving the people and keeping aloft the flag of PPPP.